Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NASA - Messenger Reveals Mercury's Geological History

NASA - Messenger Reveals Mercury's Geological History:
"NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft’s closest approach to Mercury on January 14, 2008, acquired this image as part of a mosaic that covers much of the sunlit portion of a hemisphere not view by previous spacecraft. Images such as this can be read in terms of a sequence of geological events and provide insight into the relative timing of processes that have acted on Mercury's surface in the past. ..."
There are some pretty awesome images coming back from the Messenger probe of the planet Mercury.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mission consultation: Time for change

Mission consultation: Time for change:
"DALLAS – It’s not reasonable to expect a three-day meeting in Texas to spit out all the answers to how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ought to approach world mission. But the folks gathered here for a consultation on world mission Jan. 16-18 did have some pretty clear ideas about what’s happening in the world that Presbyterians can’t ignore — changes sweeping the land, whether people have figured it out yet or not.

The bottom line: this is a time of tremendous change, in the PC(USA) and in the world. As Paul Pierson, a former missionary in Brazil and Portugal and senior professor of the history of mission and Latin American studies at Fuller Theological Seminary has written: “The changes in the worldwide church today are probably greater than those that took place during the sixteenth century Reformation. The transition today is analogous to the shift from the Jewish to the Gentile church in the first century.”

How the PC(USA) responds, how well it adapts to change and how quickly, may go a long way in determining what it has to contribute in a pluralistic world."
Leslie Scanlon, writing in The Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required to read the entire article), points out several areas in which the Church has changed. I'll highlight two of them, and let you go to the full article to read the rest:

Christianity Shifts South: The Church has grown in such a way as to shift the center of global Christianity south of the equator. To put it another way, the First World churches are a minority in the Church Universal. The percentage of missionaries from Europe and the United States have gone from 80% in 1918 to around 6% today. This is not a cause for alarm; rather it is a natural outcome of the spread of the Gospel.

Mission Goes Local: In the PC(USA) the number of mission dollars has steadily risen yet the number of mission dollars flowing through our denominational offices in Louisville has fallen. This has been a major paradigm shift over the past 30 years, and the General Assembly Council has recognized this and shifted their programs to enable local mission.

Many challenges remain. Decentralization runs the risk of letting important needs fall through the cracks. Hunter Farrell, the Director of World Mission for the PC(USA), points out that to "get it out of the bottleneck" of the offices in Louisville is a good thing, but goes on to ask that people consider whether all the needs are in fact being met.

We are in a time of rapid change, and Joan Gray, the Moderator of the 217th General Assembly, puts it into its necessary perspective: "...if we are not doing it in the power of God somehow, we’re not doing mission. That’s my fear for us Presbyterians. Every group has a besetting sin. … Our besetting sin is arrogance, in thinking that we can do mission, and that if enough smart people get together we can figure this out."

We all need to keep that in mind as we deliberate and pray about our reponse to the needs around us.

Friday, January 25, 2008

San Jose Mercury News - Sunnyvale homeowners told to cut redwoods that block solar panels

San Jose Mercury News - Sunnyvale homeowners told to cut redwoods that block solar panels:
"Talk about a clash of cherished green values.

In a case with statewide significance, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is pursuing a Sunnyvale couple under a little-known California law because redwood trees in their backyard cast a shadow over their neighbor's solar panels. ..."
Only in California...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

TCS Daily - A Question of Religion

TCS Daily - A Question of Religion:
"Some years ago I was asked a question that has haunted me. It came during a telephone conversation I had with a young man whose Internet book club has selected one of my books to read. The young man wanted to find out more about me, and he began asking what I thought about various subjects. Finally, hesitantly, he said, 'Would you mind if I asked you a very personal question?' How personal, I wondered briefly, but gave my consent anyway. His question was, 'Are you for or against religion?'

I have lost a clear recollection of my reply, but I recall being shocked at the radical and remorseless either/or with which I had been confronted: Either a person is for religion, or a person is against it. ..."
Harris makes the point here that much depends on what you are thinking about when you ask the question. The question, asked in a political debate, might be a trap -- sort of like "when did you stop beating your wife?" In this context, it seems to have been nothing more than a novice reporter trying to get a handle on who Lee Harris was.

Was Harris in favor of the blood-thirsty religions that practiced human sacrifice? Or the French Huguenots of Le Chambon who protected Jews during the Nazi occupation? He asks rhetorically whether atheists might also come to the same realization that saving Jews from Nazi extermination was the right thing to do. He answers his own question in the affirmative, but then asks whether they would have the moral imperative to lay their own lives on the line. Perhaps.

But those who believe in God could also be presumed to have some knowledge of what the Lord requires -- and that does not include turning one's back in the face of evil.

Along the way, Lee Harris quotes Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog") who is also known as the man who coined the word "agonostic". Huxley's writings showed an admiration for those whose faith led them to do good things, and was unwilling to condemn all religion for the shortcomings of a few.

Harris' points are well summarized in this statement:
"... The villagers of La Chambon were collectively committed to carrying out the highest Biblical ideal, even if it meant their personal extinction. They were prepared to defy a despotism far more hideous than that of the European middle ages. They remind us that the simplistic "for or against" approach to religion inevitably obscures the startling differences between the various religions of mankind, between those religions that demand human sacrifice to appease a blood-thirsty god, and those that have inspired self-sacrifice in the name of a better world."
It is refreshing to know that not all people have bought into the "moral equivalency" of all religion, and are willing to acknowledge that some belief systems inherently lead to good moral choices.

Monday, January 21, 2008

First Temple seal found in Jerusalem | Jerusalem Post

First Temple seal found in Jerusalem | Jerusalem Post:
"A stone seal bearing the name of one of the families who acted as servants in the First Temple and then returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to Babylonia has been uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem's City of David, a prominent Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.

The 2,500-year-old black stone seal, which has the name 'Temech' engraved on it, was found earlier this week amid stratified debris in the excavation under way just outside the Old City walls near the Dung Gate, said archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is leading the dig."
This article from the Jerusalem Post is quite interesting.

The seventh chapter of Nehemiah enumerates the exiles who returned to Israel from Babylon. Listed among the temple attendants is Temech (Temah in the NIV). Interestingly enough, the crescent figure above the two men has been identified as the symbol of a Babylonian deity. The three letters at the bottom are Hebrew and spell "Temech".

While this does not prove that the person listed on the seal and the one listed in Nehemiah are the same individual, it is significant because it is contemporaneous with the events described in Nehemiah, and names an individual whose name also appears in the book of Nehemiah.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Faith Central - Times Online - WBLG: Number of the Beast

Faith Central - Times Online - WBLG: Number of the Beast:
"The Number of the Beast - 666 in the book of Revelation - sprang into the news when someone noticed that the Parliamentary motion for disestablishment of the Church of England was tabled as no. 666. Meanwhile a poor mad man in the US thought his hand had a 666 on it and microwaved it. If you want a more upbeat take on the number of doom, this delightful US Catholic site offers such variants as those below (sometimes you could just love American bloggers to bits)"
Ordinarily I don't indulge in "666" jokes. Evil is all too real in this world, but most of hoopla about "666" (or "616", depending on what text source is used) is just plain silly to begin with, so I don't see any harm in posting this.

A sampling from the original site:

665 -- the beast's older brother
999 -- the Australian beast
1010011010 -- the binary number of the beast
x/666 -- the beast common denominator

Backlash as more claim religion to get place in top schools -Times Online

Backlash as more claim religion to get place in top schools -Times Online:
"New evidence that middle-class parents are playing the system to get their children into church schools emerged last night prompting calls for the Government to put a halt to new faith schools.

A surge in late baptisms into the Roman Catholic Church is reported by researchers as part of a phenomenon known as the “Year-Five Epiphany.” The findings have reignited the debate about the place of religion in the school system and led to renewed criticism that faith schools favour the selection of middle-class pupils whose parents know how to play the system. ..."
From what I have observed over at least 30 years, parents will send children to denominational schools even if they are not a member of that denomination. It isn't a new thing, at least in the United States. From this article, though, it seems that the denominational or parochial schools are a fairly recent phenomenon in Great Britain. These are predominantly Christian, although Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh schools are to be found.

This article, while mainly quoting members of Parliament and the government opposed to the concept of of faith-based education, also touches on the reasons why parents try to get their children into non-public schools. These reasons are similar to those given in the USA for choosing non-public schools.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

WWI 'blogger' captures attention -

WWI 'blogger' captures attention -
"LONDON, England (AP) -- In many ways he's a typical war blogger: William Henry 'Harry' Bonser Lamin's descriptions of grueling battles compete with complaints about cramped quarters and apologies for his irregular updates.

But the postings from the twentysomething English laceworker are from the trenches of World War I -- nine decades ago.

His letters are being posted now -- 90 years to the day -- to the Internet by Lamin's grandson, Bill. And like Harry's family at the time, readers don't know if his most recent update will be his last. ..."
This is one of the more creative blogs I have run across. Private Lamin's grandson is posting the letters 90 days to the day after they were written and they provide a fascinating look at one soldier's experience in World War I. The blog itself is named "WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier" and the compiler/author suggests that one start at the beginning to get the full flavor of these letters.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

OLPC fires back at Intel, children learn nothing - CNET

OLPC fires back at Intel, children learn nothing - CNET
"Nick Negroponte, founder and chairman of the One Laptop Per Child project, came out swinging at Intel on Friday, one day after the chipmaker decided to leave the group.

The OLPC's goal of bringing low-cost technology to children in developing countries apparently conflicts with Intel's goal of running a business. Even though the two agreed to put aside their differences in July, it's pretty clear that they never actually became friends.

'We at OLPC have been disappointed that Intel did not deliver on any of the promises they made when they joined OLPC; while we were hopeful for a positive, collaborative relationship, it never materialized,' Negroponte said in a statement distributed by the OLPC on Friday.

Intel cited 'fundamental differences' in describing its exit from the group Thursday; this appears to be the classic 'creative musical differences' breakup."
Sigh. It seems that people are fighting and scrabbling for the moral high ground here -- much like the presidential debates we have been treated to over the past few weeks.

It's a real pity, since these guys, presumably, are not fighting for profits or power. Or are they? Certainly this has pitted the AMD folks against Intel and the Windows aficionados against Linux lovers -- and as the article's title indicates, the children lose.

As one who has been following the One Laptop Per Child initiative since it started, I am disappointed to see it degenerate into sniping.

A recent CNET article I blogged on a few days ago mentioned a lawsuit filed in Nigeria over OLPC's alleged use of patented technology. I wonder if these two stories are related in view of the fact that the laptop choice is still up in the air, and Intel is one of the players along with OLPC?

Whatever is going on in Nigeria and in other countries where this dispute is playing out, this is not a winner-take-all kind of situation. Intel and AMD processors are compatible, and both will run Windows or Linux. Is there any reason why there can't be cooperation?

Friday, January 04, 2008

What Art Movement Am I?

You Are Romanticism

You are likely to see the world as it should be, not as it is.
You prefer to celebrate the great things people do... not the horrors they're capable of.
For you, there is nothing more inspiring than a great hero.
You believe that great art reflects the artist's imagination and true ideals.

I somehow wonder if five or so questions can probe the very depths of my soul, but these little quizzes are fun to take.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Alice Cooper: The shock rock pioneer speaks about his Christian faith - Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper: The shock rock pioneer speaks about his Christian faith - Alice Cooper:
"... 35 years since 'School's Out' and at school, Alice is very definitely in. Witnessing him on his current arena tour of the UK, he draws an audience which ranges from five to 65 and everyone to a man (or woman) admires his showmanship, his ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand and take his entire audience on a journey from grim horror and death to victory and life. There are no altar calls at an Alice Cooper show. There is no church. But this is not someone trading on his past. Not a whiff of nostalgia. Alice Cooper is still very relevant to his audience today. He still rocks. Alice is cool. And your church elders are not going to understand how Christian faith and Alice's show fit together. And your Granddad still won't like it.

Alice has thought about this: 'As a Christian, I don't declare myself as a 'Christian rock star'. I'm a rock performer who's a Christian. ..."
Apparently Alice Cooper (born in 1948 as Vincent Damon Furnier) has been a Christian since the 1990s, but has not gone the "celebrity Christian" route. He is quoted as saying that he is not a theologian and simply wants to learn who God is and to love his neighbor.

I have to confess that I know little about Alice Cooper (other than his bizarre persona onstage), but having seen a number of celebrities publicly embrace Jesus, only to backslide in a spectacular way, it is refreshing to hear of a person who has embraced Christ, and quietly tried to live as a Christian.

Washington Post sticks by RIAA story despite evidence it goofed | Tech news blog - CNET

Washington Post sticks by RIAA story despite evidence it goofed | Tech news blog - CNET
"It's late on Wednesday evening and the Washington Post has yet to correct a story that accused the recording industry of trying to paint law-abiding music fans as criminals.

But the paper should make things right and soon."
CNET has pointed out that there is more to this particular case than was portrayed in the Washington Post article I blogged about a couple days ago.

It's easy to come down on the RIAA due to their heavy-handed tactics, but in this case there are additional facts that did not get mentioned in the original article. It seems the defendant not only copied music to his personal computer (perfectly legal), but made the folder publicly available for people to access and download (completely illegal -- it's called stealing).

There is clear distinction between making copies of music you purchased and placing them on your personal MP3 player and making such copies available to anyone who can access your shared folder.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Nigerian firm demands $20 million from One Laptop Per Child - by Matt Asay - CNET Blogs

Nigerian firm demands $20 million from One Laptop Per Child - by Matt Asay - CNET Blogs:
"Remember that Nigerian company headed by a convicted felon that sued the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project for patent infringement?

Well, the suit has finally been a Nigerian court...with $20 million in damages on the table.

The cheekiness is breathtaking. ..."
The original Groklaw article gives much more detail. It seems that the multilingual keyboard in question has never been shipped on an OLPC machine, putting aside for the moment that this is a patent troll that would be laughed out of court in most countries.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

-- Alfred Tennyson, 1850
Alfred Tennyson wrote such poems as Crossing the Bar and Strong Son of God, Immortal Love, which, like the poem above, are fixtures in English hymnody. All three of these were present in The Hymnal (1933). Strong Son of God and Ring Out the Old were present in The Hymnbook (1955). Strong Son of God made it into The Worshipbook (1972), but there is nothing by Tennyson listed in The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990).

We sang this in worship on the last Sunday of 2007, and I was struck by its timeliness, even considering that the hymn in the older red hymnal consists of only stanzas 2, 4, 7, and 8 of the poem above.

It is a pity that none of Tennyson's hymns made it into the latest PC(USA) hymnal. For this election year, Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New could serve to call us away from the evils of inequity, greed, hate, war, and partisanship.

The words to the poem, Ring Out, Wild Bells, and the image of Tennyson were obtained from Wikipedia. The photograph is from the 1904 book, The Hundred Best English Poems, which was released in 2006 by Project Gutenberg.